Jodi Picoult (born in 1966) is the bestselling author of more than twenty novels, including My Sister’s Keeper and A Spark of Light.
Here are five fantastic quotes she’s shared with us that will make you a better writer.
1. I have several writer friends, but I don’t involve them in my work process. I’m more likely to talk about the business of publishing with them.
I completely understand where Jodi Picoult is coming from here. I think it’s important to have writer friends when you spend so much of your days in the dark by yourself typing away on a computer. You can’t just spend forever by your lonesome working on your latest short story or novel. You need to interact with other people who do the same thing, and that’s why an MFA in Creative Writing, or even just having two or three good writer friends, can be so important. You want to feel less alone sometimes, and finding those other people who do what you do always brings lots of joy.
At the same time I agree with Picoult that it can be unnecessary to involve those close writer friends with your specific work process. You don’t need to talk about what you’re working on every time you meet with them and go in depth about your characters and what chapter 17 is like and so on. Talks about the business of publishing certainly has its place, sure, but I have found in the last few years that not talking about writing with my writing friends is usually the best thing of all. To just enjoy each other’s company and gossip and have fun and not feel obligated to talk for hours about the various writing projects we’re working on.
2. On a shelf above my computer are five letters that spell out W-R-I-T-E. Just in case I forget why I’m there. I also have ‘Wonder Woman’ paraphernalia from when I wrote five issues of the comic, and pictures of my husband and kids.
It’s so easy to sit down at your writing desk and do anything else but write. There are so many distractions in our lives that it’s almost a miracle these days when you’re able to sit down, focus, pull up Microsoft Word, and write your heart out. I struggle with it more and more each passing year. The desire to focus and write is always there, but it’s so easy to get distracted by one little thing and suddenly realize an hour has passed you by, and you haven’t written a single word. It’s always so frustrating! You wanted to write 2,000 words between 9am and 11am, and suddenly it’s 10:30 and all you’ve managed is a paragraph.
Some things that help are turning off your Wi-Fi, closing the door so nobody can bother you, and putting your phone in a different room. Another thing that is oh so simple? Putting a note on or near your screen that says W-R-I-T-E. Just seeing that little word will likely give you the motivation to at least get started. What I have found is that once you get started, usually you find the energy to keep going. Getting started on your writing for the day is always the hardest, so once you get past that initial step, the rewards soon follow.
3. You might not write well every day, but you can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page.
This is one of the most important lessons you can learn as a writer. I’ve probably said it before, and I’ll say it again and again until it’s drained into your skull: writing a crappy first draft is a hell out of a lot more useful than writing five amazing chapters of a book you never finish. I can’t tell you how many awful first drafts I’ve written of both short stories and novels in the last decade that I was ultimately able to shape into rich and compelling narratives after a few months and a few more drafts.
A really bad page of writing can make you feel lousy, can cause you to think you have no talent, but never forget that a terrible page of writing at least gives you something to work with. It’s a start. You can edit it into something better or find the nugget of the scene that works the best and revise around that. Eventually you might have to cut that entire page completely, but at least the writing of it will have brought you one step closer to something that works as a whole. The blank page does nothing for you, and a bad page of writing will get you where you want to go!
4. I don’t believe in writer’s block. Think about it — when you were blocked in college and had to write a paper, didn’t it always manage to fix itself the night before the paper was due? Writer’s block is having too much time on your hands.
I don’t believe in writer’s block either. I never have. Sure, there have been days when I sat down at my writing desk not entirely sure what to write next, but it was usually a matter of not planning my writing day well enough rather than having no good ideas. Something I learned early on was to always stop your writing for the day at a place where you know exactly what the next scene or the next part of the scene is going to be. That way when you sit down the following day there’s no question of what you’re going to write.
Ideas will come and go. Sometimes it might take you awhile to come up with a really good idea to explore in your next writing project. But try not to ever use writer’s block as an excuse for not getting any work done today. You might think you’re blocked for whatever reason, but usually the reason is something different, most often a mix of distractions, laziness, and maybe not getting enough sleep the night before. We all have days where we struggle getting words down. And it’s okay when that happens. Don’t beat yourself up about it. Nobody’s looking over your shoulder. What’s important is that you try again the next day, and the day after that, and keep writing until you reach the end of your latest project.
5. Writing is total grunt work. A lot of people think it’s all about sitting and waiting for the muse. I don’t buy that. It’s a job. There are days when I really want to write, days when I don’t. Every day I sit down and write.
If you want to be a successful writer, do what Jodi Picoult does: sit down every day and write even when you don’t feel like it. You have to treat writing like a job, not like a hobby. As soon as you start writing only here and there, only when you feel like it, you’re never going to accomplish what you want. You won’t finish that latest project. Thinking about writing a novel? That’s great, but you can’t just think about it and talk about it forever. You actually have to sit down at some point and do it. Not just some days of the week. Every day of the week. You want to pretend like you’re getting paid for each hour you’re sitting there putting words on the page. You want to pretend like people actually are looking over your shoulder, even though you know there’s not.
Waiting for the muse is nice and all, but you need to realize there’s not always going to be a muse. You’re not always going to feel inspired. Sure, the absolute best writing days are the ones where you’re excited and motivated, and your imagination is flowing, and you find yourself writing 2,000 wonderful words in less than an hour. Those are the amazing days you hope for as a writer. But they don’t happen all the time. In fact they happen rarely, at least in my case.
So write when it’s easy, and write when it’s hard. Write through your distractions. Write at least a little bit every single day, and if you stick with the process long enough, amazing things will happen.
Are you ready to write your novel this year? I’m excited to announce my new book, Write Your Novel Now! 100 Tips & Strategies to Help You Draft, Revise, and Publish Your Book, now available on Amazon for just $3.49!